The Basics of Lawn Maintenance

Example of good lawn maintenance. Fresh green Bermuda grass, with a tree and bed of ornamental plants.
The trick to growing a thick, healthy lawn is no secret — grass requires regular maintenance to keep it looking good. | Photo Credit: Adobe Stock, © Arunee

If you’re like most homeowners, your vision for your home doesn’t end at the walls of your house. You likely picture a lush, healthy lawn as the perfect surrounding for your family’s home. In most climates, having a pristine lawn is an achievable goal — it just takes some work.

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Some homeowners find satisfaction in yard work, mowing, weeding and fertilizing their way to the perfect lawn.

Others prefer to focus their efforts elsewhere and hire professionals to take care of the more time-consuming tasks.

If you fall into the second camp, know that there are plenty of professional lawn service companies out there. The reviews team has researched their services, prices and customer reviews to offer a recommendation.

But first, let’s look at what goes into maintaining a healthy lawn.

For professional lawn care maintenance, the reviews team recommends getting a free quote from TruGreen by calling 877-820-0392 or filling out a simple form.


How Do You Maintain Your Lawn?

As you’re probably aware, keeping your lawn looking great is not a one-time job. You certainly won’t need to spend every day working on it, but it’s a good idea to set a schedule that includes the following activities.

Watering

Some places in the country receive so much rainfall that watering the lawn isn’t necessary, but most grass will require some irrigation, particularly in the drier months.

It’s recommended to water your lawn deeply but infrequently, which usually means no more than one to two times per week and soaking the soil about six inches deep. This will encourage grass roots to grow deeper in search of water, which will ultimately make them more resistant to drought.

Mowing

How often you mow will depend on how quickly your grass grows. During the growing season, once a week is probably about right, but every other week should be fine when the grass is dormant. Just make sure not to remove more than about one-third of the length of the grass blades at a time. Cutting the grass too short or mowing with a dull blade can damage your lawn over time.

Fertilizing 

Applying fertilizer once or twice a year can make a real difference in the appearance and health of your lawn.

Soil can start to run low on key nutrients and replenishing them with a slow-release, organic fertilizer improves soil health and grass growth.

Remember to stay away from quick-release fertilizers unless you have a pressing need for grass in a hurry. They’ll get your grass growing quickly, but they can deplete the soil in the long run.

Weeding

If you enjoy being outdoors and want to take your frustrations out on some weeds, you might be able to keep your yard weed-free using only your hands and a trowel.

Most people, however, will need some help controlling weed growth. Herbicides are available in both synthetic and natural varieties, but keep in mind that these are non-selective products — they’ll kill whatever plants they’re applied to, so make sure to apply them carefully.

Overseeding 

Most of the time, you aren’t starting from scratch when you’re working on your lawn. Instead, you may see that your grass thins out over time.

One way to spruce it up is by overseeding, or spreading a blend of grass seeds on top of existing grass.

How often you need to overseed will depend on things like climate and the amount of foot traffic your lawn experiences, but you probably won’t need to do this more than every three to four years.

Aerating

Over time, weather and foot traffic can compact the soil, making it too dense to properly hold the water and nutrients that plants need and preventing grass roots from growing.

The way to fix this is by aeration, or introducing air into the soil. You can accomplish this with various spiked instruments, but whenever possible, you’ll want to use the plug or core aeration method, which digs up plugs of dirt and lets them recombine naturally into the ground. This requires a special lawn aerator, but you’ll only need it once or twice a year.

Pruning Trees and Shrubs

Fruit trees, in particular, require regular pruning to remove dead weight and make sure the leaves get as much sunlight as possible.

Shaded trees and shrubs don’t require quite as much work, but they should be checked from time to time for damaged branches or signs of disease.

Tree removal and replacement are expensive, so it pays to monitor the health of any trees or large shrubs on your property.

Eliminating pests  

Some pests, like white grubs, can actively damage your lawn and even invite larger predators to come around looking for a snack.

Other pests like mosquitoes and ticks don’t harm plants but prevent you from fully enjoying your outdoor space.

Whether you opt for organic pest control or synthetic products, curbing unwanted visitors often becomes an important part of maintaining a lawn.

Here are some basic guidelines for a lawn care maintenance schedule: 

What to DoHow Often to Do It 
Watering1-2 times per week
MowingEvery 1-2 weeks
Aerating1-2 times per year
Fertilizing1-2 times per year
SeedingEvery 3-4 years
Pruning trees and shrubsAs needed
WeedingAs needed
Pest controlAs needed
Woman spreading grass seed
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock, © dean

Lawn Maintenance Products

Here are some key lawn products you’ll want to keep on hand.

  • Fertilizer — Use organic, slow-release fertilizer during your grass’ growing season.
  • Herbicide — Weed-killing chemicals can sometimes be toxic to humans, so make sure to read the labels and store them safely.
  • Insecticide — Note the kinds of insects that you tend to find in your yard and stock products to eliminate them.
  • Grass seed — You might not need this unless you’re overseeding this year, but it can be a good idea to have some on hand for bare patches.

Lawn Maintenance Equipment  

It’s easy to get lost in your home improvement store’s gardening aisle, but you don’t actually need one of everything.

Here is a breakdown of lawn maintenance equipment into categories: what every homeowner should have handy, some slightly more advanced equipment and the stuff the pros use.

The Necessities

  • Gloves — to protect hands from blisters, cuts or chemical irritation
  • Hose — to irrigate the lawn
  • Spade — to dig small holes
  • Hand pruner — to cut through small plant stems and branches
  • Leaf rake — to remove leaves and thatch from grass
  • Soil knife — for precision gardening work
  • Hand weeder — to dig up weeds by the root
  • Hoe — to loosen soil and dig up patches of weeds
  • Long-handled shovel — to dig large holes
  • Lawnmower — to easily cut grass at a specific height
  • Eye and ear protection — for work with power tools

The Nice-to-Haves

  • Wheelbarrow — to move sod, debris or equipment
  • Granular spreader — to distribute granular fertilizer evenly
  • Edger — to cut grass that overhangs driveways, sidewalks, etc.
  • Sprayer — to distribute liquid herbicide or pesticide
  • Hedge shears — to cut through medium plant stems and branches
  • Long-handled lopper — to cut through thick plant stems and tree branches
  • Soil rake — to spread mulch or even out gravel
  • Blade sharpener — to maintain other tools

The Pro Tools

  • Hedge trimmer — to shape shrubs and trees with precision 
  • Leaf blower — to move lawn clippings away from undesirable areas
  • Core aerator — to dig up plugs of soil for aeration

Making — and Keeping — Your Grass Thick and Healthy

A thick, healthy lawn starts with good soil. It’s always a good idea to have your soil tested for pH (acidity) and nutrient content.

A professional lawn service can do this for you, or you can purchase an at-home testing kit. The ideal soil pH for growing grass is a slightly acidic 6.5.

Most kits will also allow you to determine the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the soil.

Knowing the pH and the nutrient content of the soil will tell you if you need to make any changes. The addition of lime can help balance the pH, and fertilizer can supply missing nutrients.

Fertilizer strength is measured by its NPK ratio, or the amount of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) it contains.

If you find out that your soil already has plenty of phosphorus but lacks nitrogen and potassium, for example, you can look for a fertilizer that has a higher percentage of N and K.

The final stage of soil preparation is aeration, which will loosen spots of compacted dirt. Then new seeds can be sown, followed by thorough irrigation to help the seeds germinate.

Be careful not to overwater at this stage, or you might inadvertently wash away seedlings that are still trying to take root.

Once the grass has grown a few inches in height, it’s time to start mowing. We recommend a mulching mower, which chops the grass clippings into small pieces and redistributes these clippings on the lawn, instead of having you bag them up. The clippings are chock full of nitrogen, meaning that you’ll fertilize your lawn every time you mow.

Remember to keep your mower blades sharp, as dull blades can damage grass.

Take care of any weeds you see as soon as possible to keep them from spreading. Do the same for any signs of disease, which can include brown, white or yellow patches on an otherwise green lawn.

In many cases, the cause of the disease is a lawn fungus, and you can purchase fungicide from any home and garden store to keep it from spreading.

However, if these products don’t take care of the problem, you may need to hire a professional lawn service to diagnose and treat the disease.


Treating Your Lawn 

As the seasons change, you’ll need to prepare your lawn for the weather. One important thing to keep in mind is the species of the grass you want to grow.

Most of the country uses cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass and Bermuda grass, but some southern areas use warm-season grasses. These require different annual fertilizing schedules.

Fall

If you have cool-season grasses in your yard, make sure you aerate and fertilize in autumn, during the cool weather but before the first freeze.

Cool-season grasses actually grow the most over the winter, so you’ll be supplying the plants with the nutrients and soil they need to grow healthy in time for spring.

You can also plant shrubs this time of year, giving them a few weeks to take root before going dormant in the cold.

Keep the lawn clear of fallen leaves, which can become wet and soggy and attract fungus. Try to get one final mow in before the first freeze hits.

Once you’re done with that, take the time to winterize your lawnmower, preparing it to remain in storage for a few months.

Winter

Fortunately, you won’t need to do much lawn maintenance in the winter, but make sure you don’t leave any objects or equipment laying on the lawn. A rake left atop delicate grass can leave a rake-shaped dead spot that will last into spring.

Similarly, avoid walking or driving on the grass as much as possible to avoid damaging it and compacting soil. Winter is a good time to prune any trees or shrubs to prepare for new growth in the spring.

Spring

Although spring is a time of impressive plant growth, the weather can be unpredictable, so refrain from doing too much heavy maintenance while the ground is still damp from melted snow and seasonal rain.

If you want to use pre-emergent weed control methods to prevent unwanted plants from showing up, now’s the time.

Don’t fertilize cool-season grasses during the spring. Any new growth might not survive a hot summer.

Do fertilize warm-season grasses like St. Augustine grass in late spring, after the chance of another frost has passed.

With either type of grass, start up a regular mowing schedule once it’s obvious that the grass has started growing again.

Summer

As the name implies, warm-season grasses flourish during the summer. However, they can still struggle during the hottest weather, so try to get any aeration and fertilization in before the temperature goes north of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or so.

Take care of any weeds by hand or with herbicide and watch for signs of fungal infection or grub infestation. Mow regularly and consider letting the grass grow a little taller for the season to help keep weeds away.

Cool-season grasses can go brown and completely dormant in the heat, but that doesn’t mean that they’re dead. If you’ve got cool-season grasses, either water the lawn regularly or don’t water it at all until the temperature starts to cool off.

Don’t be tempted to apply fertilizer, though —  you’ll merely waste it and possibly burn heat-stressed plants.

 Here is a breakdown of how to handle different types of grasses: 

 Cool-Season GrassesWarm-Season Grasses
Common types– Kentucky bluegrass
– Ryegrass
– Fine fescue
– Tall fescue
– St. Augustine grass
– Bermuda grass
– Centipede grass
– Zoysia grass
When to aerate and seedFallLate spring or early summer
When to fertilizeFallEarly or late summer
Dormant periodSummerWinter

Preferred Provider for Lawn Maintenance: TruGreen

If a full year of lawn maintenance sounds like a daunting task, don’t feel like you need to take it on alone.

Plenty of lawn care companies offer both individual services and comprehensive annual plans to keep your lawn looking its best — but they aren’t all equal.

For a nationwide lawn company with impressive services and reach, the reviews team recommends TruGreen.

To get a free quote from TruGreen, call 877-820-0392 or fill out a simple form.

TruGreen Plans & Services 

TruGreen offers a number of services on an a la carte basis, so if you only need help with one or two facets of lawn care, these might be your best bet:

  • Aeration
  • Soil analysis and amendment
  • TruShield tick and flea control
  • Grub control and prevention
  • Mosquito defense
  • Fire ant defense
  • Tree and shrub care

If, however, you’d like help on a regular basis, consider signing up for one of TruGreen’s five annual packages, which provide a full year of services.

Plan Services
TruComplete Lawn Care Plan– One aeration and overseed per year
– Eight general service visits per year
– FertilizationGrub and pest control services
– Pre-emergent and targeted weed control
– An analysis of your current lawn condition
– Satisfaction guarantee
– Service by lawn care professionals
TruHealth Lawn Care Plan– Eight general service visits per year
– FertilizationGrub and pest control services
– Pre-emergent and targeted weed control
– An analysis of your current lawn condition
– Satisfaction guarantee
– Service by lawn care professionals
TruSignature Lawn Care Plan– One aeration and overseed per year
– Eight general service visits a year
– Seven tree service visits per year
– FertilizationGrub and pest control services
– Pre-emergent and targeted weed control
– An analysis of your current lawn condition
– Tree and shrub services
– Satisfaction guarantee
– Service by lawn care professionals
TruNatural Lawn Care Plan– Five general visits per year
– Natural fertilizer application
– Non-toxic weed control services
– An analysis of your current lawn condition
– Satisfaction guarantee
– Service by lawn care professionals
TruMaintenance Lawn Care Plan– Six general visits per year
– Fertilization
– Pre-emergent and targeted weed control
– An analysis of your current lawn condition
– Satisfaction guarantee
– Service by lawn care professionals

*TruNatural Lawn Care Plan uses organic fertilizer and non-chemical weed control methods.

Availability

TruGreen’s services are available in every state except Alaska and Hawaii. The company’s size and nationwide reach mean there are more employees to work around your schedule.

The Cost of TruGreen Plans & Services

As with all lawn services, TruGreen does not list prices on its website because costs will vary based on the size of your yard, where you’re located, the shape your yard is in and more.

TruGreen Pros and Cons

ProsCons
– Wide variety of annual plans and individual services
– Availability in 48 states
– 50 years in business
– Good professional reputation
– Competitive prices
– Many positive customer reviews
– No mowing/landscaping services
– Annual plans not very customizable
– Some reports of aggressive marketing and upselling practices

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you need for lawn care? 

The amount of equipment and products you need to take care of your lawn will vary based on the size of your yard and how much you want to take on yourself.

You’ll almost certainly need a lawnmower, as well as some basic manual equipment like a shovel, a rake, a spade and so on.

Scroll up to the section on Lawn Maintenance Equipment for a list of tools.

How do you maintain a lawn? 

Good lawn maintenance begins with establishing a schedule based on the climate where you live, the kind of grass you want to grow and how much time you have to put into it.

Keep up with your lawn, and you’ll have an easier time keeping it looking good year-round.

Most homeowners are able to take care of weekly mowing and watering, but many employ professional lawn care services like TruGreen to take care of the larger tasks like fertilizing and aeration.

How do I get my grass to grow thicker?

A quick fix for grass thickness is overseeding, or sowing grass seed over existing turf. However, the new seedlings might not live long if the soil doesn’t have the nutrients they need to take root.

If you’re having persistent problems with thinning grass, consider having your soil analyzed to see if it’s got the right qualities to grow healthy plants. You can purchase a test kit or hire a professional.

When should you start treating your lawn? 

That depends on what you mean by “treating.” If you’re talking about basic maintenance tasks like mowing, watering and raking, it’s never too soon to start.

If you’re talking about a treatment like overseeding, fertilization, aeration or pre-emergent weed control, the best time of the year will depend on your climate and grass type.

Cool-season grasses should be planted and fertilized in the fall, whereas warm-season grasses should be planted and fertilized in late spring or early summer.

Planting and fertilizing right before the grass’ growing season will ensure a healthy root system that will keep the grass in good shape during its later dormant period.

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